THE HEIRS OF KELLIE

AN EPISODE OF FAMILY HISTORY

CHAPTER I.

Sir Walter Oliphant of Kellie in Fife was a man who had grown old amid many perturbations of the State and of the house. In Mary's stormy and troubled day he had been, as many were, not so certain in his beliefs, either political or religious, as a person of so much consequence in his county ought to have been. He had been the Queen's man, and he had been the King's man, without, however, being either a time-server or a turncoat. He was one of those who would have given his life to prove his Queen's innocence, but who all the time could not but feel that this would be a poor argument, and no evidence at all, against the cold chill of doubt that lingered all the time even in his own heart. And his reason was convinced of the advantages of the English alliance, and that everything must be risked rather than King James's heirship, notwithstanding the strong revolt in his heart against that which was so likely to follow, the abandonment of Scotland, and ebbing away of her dearly-bought glory and the pride of her independence, second to none. But all the active struggles of life had died away from him when he sate in his old hall, in the dreary years after the Court had gone away to London, drawing so many with it; and the change had stricken to the heart of Scotland, as wise men had known it would, although all the country had cheered and shouted when their king assumed the English crown, as if it had been by his prowess and for their greatness that he had won that other kingdom. The land was subdued and troubled in these days, yet did not venture to complain; for had not they desired that which had come to pass? And the Kirk was troubled and uncertain too, alarmed by threatenings of interference, though no great thing had yet been attempted, and the ministers still had dominion more or less, and, though many things were tolerated that had been condemned, still guided most things their own way.

But all the affairs of the world had grown dim to Sir Walter Oliphant, sitting in his little warm chamber—the room of panelled and carved oak, which opened from the hall of Kellie Castle, as all the chief rooms did and do to this day, without any chill of corridors or passages, but one room out of another, after the ancient fashion. He sat by his fire, and his mind was full of thoughts. He was an old man, but not so old in years as in condition. His life, which had been a stirring one, was far off from him, as if it had been a dream. There were times when it came up into his mind like a tale that had been told, with which he had little to do—the time when he was stout and strong, and rode out to feast and to fight, and came back to hear the shouts and the sports of his boys making the rafters ring. He thought of all these things sometimes vaguely, as of things that had been; but at present his occupation was chiefly to keep himself warm, and to think who should be the heir of his Castle and his lands when he should be carried for the last time down the winding stair. He was not much concerned about that, any more than he was concerned for all that had happened to him in the past: but the thought of who should have Kellie after him was still real in his mind. That the natural heirs were gone had caused him bitter sorrow in his day; but even that had grown far away and dim to him, and all his life had shrunk into the routine of getting up from his bed and going back to it—both tiresome processes—and swallowing the food that had no taste, and sitting by the fire that had so little warmth. Only this one thing held him, the great care of making up his mind who was to be the heir of Kellie in the days when he should be there no more.

It was not that he was without kin or heirs-at-law. There was one even at his own hearthstone who might well have ended all difficulties, being its natural inheritress. Though Sir Walter was an old man, he had a sister who was little more than a girl, though that is a strange thing to think of. His father had lived long, and had made a foolish marriage in his old age, and left behind him a child much younger than his grandsons, and who was like a grandchild to her brother. She had grown up in the house, the plaything of everybody, her right to her home never doubted, yet without any position in it. When the others disappeared Jean remained, and it might be that the father bereaved felt in the bottom of his heart some grudge that she of whom no account was made should continue when the loftier heads were laid low. But if this was in his heart he did not betray it. She grew and blossomed out, and came to her full height, which was not small, and was now of an age to be considered the lady of the house. And no doubt, the old knight might easily have given her to a fitting wooer, and thus found himself an heir among the best blood of Fife; but of this he never thought, nor of Jean his little sister as in any sense his successor. It angered him greatly when Master Melville of Carnbee kirk and parish took it upon him to speak a word to this effect. "Her, the heiress!" cried the old knight, with a roar in his throat like a wounded lion. And he would not speak to Master Melville again for many a day.

"And wha but her should be the heir?" said Mistress Marjory, the old nurse, who had long been the housekeeper at Kellie, and to whom Jean was as the light of her eyes. "Waes me for all the bonnie lads that are away! and no an Oliphant left to keep up the honour of the old house. But though she's but a lass she has the blood as well as any one, knight or lord, that ever owned the name. And wherefore should she not get a good man and raise up the race?"

"If she had a good man the morn the race she would raise up would be for his house and no hers," said Neil Morison, who was the head of the other section of the household, and in most things opposed to Mistress Marjory. He gave forth a dry laugh, as was his wont, and added, "For all so grand as ye are, the name never comes from the side of the distaff. That's aye something to our side."

"There's times," said the housekeeper, "when nae less a thing than a crown comes from that side—as is well kent in poor auld Scotland this day."

"Ye may say that," said Neil, forced into sudden sympathy, "and if we had vanquished thae English loons by our swords and our spears, as it is written in Scripture, it would hae been the better way."

"Oh, hold your tongue with your spears and your swords! It would set ye better, Maister Morison, to do what you can with our auld knight and keep sore injustice out of his head—for who should have the lands after him but his ain flesh and blood?"

"It would never do, it would never do," cried Neil. "A lass! that couldna keep her ain heid, and muckle less the old Oliphant lands—that are not what they used to be, lack-a-day, whoever was the heir."

"What are they colloguing about, the two great rulers of the house," said a young voice, bursting in as its owner did, with a sudden gush of fresh air and the fragrance of the outdoor world, "putting each other in mind of the greatness of the Oliphants, now that it's like the Flowers of the Forest, and a' wede away."

"Mistress Jean! and a' in a confusion, your hair about your haffits, and the lace torn off your riding-coat! What has happened to you? Will ye never mind what a' the house tells you, that it sets you not, a lady like you, to ride a powney about the roads like a farmer's lass."

"Or maybe worse things than that," said Neil, who had risen hurriedly to his feet on the young lady's entrance, and shot this Parthian arrow at her as he went away.

"I will shoot that auld carle some day if he looks at me so," she cried, with a sudden gleam of anger, then laughed and clapped her hands, "with my bow and arrows," she added, merrily. "We'll put him against the castle wall, and pin him to't like that bonny saint in the old picture. What's happened, said she? A great deal has happened. I have had a grand adventure, Marjory, simple as I sit here."

"Oh, bairn, bairn!" cried the housekeeper, "you'll just break my heart."

"It's been broken so often, and aye mended again," said the girl. "Wait till I tell you. I was rattling along on the Pittenweem road, my pony and me, very well pleased with the fine day, and just singing to ourselves, for it was too sunny to keep silence; when lo! I was aware of a horse's hoofs coming pelting after me. I thought what you said, never to mind, but just keep the road quietly and pay no attention. I would not even give a look over my shoulder to see if it was one of the Anstruthers or Roland Dishington, till I came to a corner and gave a glint. And it was a muckle trooper on a muckle grey horse, not canny to see, and no another soul within sight."

"Lord bless my soul! ane of the disbanded Greys!" cried Marjory, lifting up her hands and eyes. "Oh, lassie, lassie! will ye never learn?"

"My heart was in my mouth," said Jean, whose eyes were dancing, however, with excitement and triumph, "but I had to keep up my courage. I gave the pony just a touch to speed her on—and you know she cannot thole even a touch, she has such a spirit. And then there came a muckle voice, as muckle as the man, calling to me, Hey, my bonnie lass! and hey, my bonnie bird! The cannaillye! to use such words to me!"

Jean's eyes shone with a momentary gleam of rage and shame. "It is maybe my fault," she said, "as ye are always telling me, to ride alone; but who would I get to come behind? No Maister Morison, the major-domo, nor Jamie Webster, that is everybody's man, nor Jaicque the groom. No, no; there's nobody to follow Jean: so I must either bide in the house or ride my lane."

"My darlin'! and what did he do?"

"Oh, no harm," cried the girl, laughing, "since here I am, and none the worse but for the lace on my cape, that he gave a snatch at as he came up thundering, till I thought it was a real charge of cavalry, and I would be ridden down."

"Lassie! and how did ye escape? For gude sake dinna keep me in my trouble."

"There is no need for trouble," said Jean, "since here you see me: though I allow," she added, with a pleasure in working upon the old lady's fears, "that a minute longer and I cannot tell what I would have done; for he had gripped my cape in his hand, though the pony was just flying, and the muckle grey horse thundering, and my heart bursting out of my throat with fright and fury." She paused, half from the keenness of the recollection and half maliciously, to pile up the agony.

"And then? and then?"

"Then?" said Jean, looking innocently into her old nurse's face. "Why, then! there was just nothing more."

"Oh, bairn! you are enough to drive ten women out of their senses."

"Well," said Jean, "I will admit there were causes for it. But just at that moment there came another galloping, just as muckle a horse and as muckle a man, on the other side. And my man he dropped hold of my cape, and tore the lace off it with his glove, as you see. And the pony, she just set her feet to the ground as if she were riding a race, and the new man and my man they faced each other. I'm thinking nothing happened. I saw with that eye I have in the back of my head that they rode up to each other awfu' civil, like two towers; and then the trooper he took the turn to St Monance, and me I flew up the Carnbee road, and the grand adventure was done. You can see I'm not a prin the worse, except my riding-cape, and Kirsten must just sew on the lace again."

"And that was a'!" cried Mistress Marjory, relieved, but at the same time a little disappointed to hear no more.

"All! was it not enough?" said Jean; "would you have had me assaulted on the king's highway, and put in peril of my purse, that has nothing in it, or maybe of my life, which has not very much——" Jean made a pause, and then, looking up demurely, she said in very quiet tones, "No; it was not all."

"Oh, my hinny,—you just play upon me as if I were a fiddle."

"You are much more like a harpsichord," said Jean, contemplating the housekeeper's ample person reflectively. "Yon man after he had dispersed the trooper never came rushing up as Roland Dishington or one of the Ansters would have done, but just rode steady behind as if he had been my servant." The word has or had two meanings, and probably the second of these flashed over her memory, for she made an almost imperceptible pause and reddened. "I was still a little feared: and what did I do but head the pony for yon house you know, of Over-Kellie, where you never would let me go——"

"And then?" cried Mistress Marjory again, breathless.

"Well, they came fleeing out, and he, he came riding in. And it was who would be the most concerned, and was I hurt and was I frightened, and would I bide and rest? The Leddy—or is she the Gudewife?—for I could not tell——"

"Some calls her the one and some the other," said Marjory, shortly. "Never you mind. You'll be telling me now the man that came up and—saved ye was——"

"That is just it," said Jean, "and if you'll tell nobody, Marjory, I'll just whisper in your ear—he's a bonnie lad."

"Mistress Jean!" cried the housekeeper in consternation.

"Well! say he's just a country fellow, and no grand cock to his hat, nor lace on his coat: I am not saying he's a grand gentleman. But I have a pair of sharp eyes in my head,—you are always saying that,—and I cannot but see what's set before them. He is a bonnie lad; and that is just as true as all the rest."

"What do you call a' the rest?"

"You know as well as I do; or maybe you know better," said Jean, with a little indignation; "because he is Peter Oliphant, and because he is the next of kin, that's not to say that he is not a bonnie lad!"

"It might be a good reason, Mistress Jean, for you kenning naething about him, and no going out of your way to make acquaintance with him——"

"Me go out of my way to make acquaintance with him! Neither him nor any man, if it were a prince or a king! It was he that came out of his way to protect a lass he knew nothing of when he saw she was in need. Maybe you would have thought it better had he left me to the trooper?" said the girl, with much indignation.

"Oh, no that, no that," said the old woman; "but it would have been better you had not put yourself in the way of wanting protection, my bonnie leddy—no from him nor from any man!" she said.

"You forget who you are speaking to," cried Mistress Jean, with quick anger, flinging away. But she came back next minute to fling her arms round her old nurse's neck. "And that's true," she said; "I was just thinking so mysel'."

CHAPTER II.

While this was going on, Sir Walter was sitting in his warm panelled chamber, pondering by the side of the fire. His old Castle, which was not one of the famous strongholds of the time, but yet an ancient house dating far back into the mist of ages, and standing four-square to all the winds that blew, a house that time could scarcely wear more than the rocks, would soon be a desolate and masterless house. Since the days of Bruce the Oliphants had been there, and the first lord of Kellie had good King Robert's blood in his veins. But now there was no one to come after him in the old home of his race. The gloom of that consciousness had settled down upon his mind, and filled him with an immense and indescribable darkness in which he went tottering, seeking for something to replace what was lost, though by moments he was not very clear as to what it was that was lost, which made it necessary for him to grope in the dark and seek that substitute. And his thoughts were very slow, wandering, and confused, though they always came back with unbroken persistency to the one point. Who should have Kellie after him? Who would replace the heirs who were no more? This had been the preoccupation of many years; it almost seemed as if all his life he had been thinking of it. His own active days had vanished away, and all the adventures and troubles that had filled his house with rejoicing and with wailing. Sometimes while he sat musing on that one sole question he would be surprised by a recollection of himself, as in the days when he rode in Queen Mary's train, or those in which he hung about the ante-chambers at St James's, half proud to feel himself one of the new masters there, half furious to see the dark looks which the Southern lords threw upon King James's train. Was that himself? or one of the former Oliphants who held a larger train at Kellie? or perhaps one of the young ones—the lads, the——, those who ought to have been here to receive Kellie from his hands. Their faces would sometimes flash out from his memory too. Who were they, old heirs of Kellie slain in the wars, or lost in the wildering world, never coming back to claim their heritage? And who was to have it now? Who would keep it safe, and guard all its rights and keep up the auld name? On this subject his thoughts would clear, his mind retained its force. It was the one clear point in the misty universe of dreams that surrounded the old man.

Almost his only visitors were the clergymen of the two neighbouring parishes, each of which claimed Kellie Castle as part of its own. He retained enough of his natural keenness to perceive that each of them took a different side in this great question, and sometimes to play upon their contradictions with something of the pleasure which the quarrels of priests and women between themselves so often afford to a man of the world. The difference between them gave him a vague amusement, or something at least as like amusement as he was capable of. Master Melville of Carnbee was a Reformation minister who had known John Knox, and who, though of a much milder temper, was yet very strong as to his duty of speaking in season and out of season, and letting no man avoid or mistake his duty without full warning of it; but Sir John Low at Pittenweem was no better than a mass priest the country folk said, and loved the great, and to speak smooth things, flattering the old laird and supporting him in taking his own way. Sir Walter listened to what they said on both sides, but he was little moved by their arguments. What he was really doing while he seemed to be listening was slowly settling upon his own plans, and deciding for himself while they talked, which neither of them was at all unwilling to do. It was Mr Melville who was his visitor the day after the incident in the last chapter, a grave man of gentle manners, with a black velvet cap upon a bald head.

"What are ye saying?" said Sir Walter. "Reason gude—ay, I've reason gude for all I say to you. It's no fit that an auld race should die out of the land."

"And yet," said the other, in the heat of argument, "if it's so ordained, it's ill striving with the Will aboon. But ye have heirs in plenty at your hand, and little danger of your name. How often must I be telling ye, Sir Walter Oliphant, there is your ain father's daughter, your ain flesh and blood, the one that has the best right? Where would ye go furder than your ain ingleside? Who could be so near to you? and young and likely and one to raise up heirs—always if it be the Almichty's will——"

"Who's that," said the old knight. "Jean! a bit lassie! how often have I tellt you, minister? just as often as you have tellt me. What would I do with a lassie in my seat, that could neither keep the house nor keep her head, a thing with neither might nor right? Na! that will not do for me."

"She would get a man," said Mr Melville.

"Ay, she would get a man! little doubt of that: and my auld lands would be sweepit up into lands that march with mine, and there would be an Anster of Kellie, or a Dishington, or a Lindsay, or the Lord knows what. No! if I have said it once I have said it a hundred times, nae lass shall reign and rule in my auld house."

"Well-a-well, well-a-well! if ye say so," said the minister, "I have no certain teaching about the heirship of a woman, though the daughters of Zelophehad had a portion with their brethren, as we read in the Book of Numbers; but I would not force the word of the Lord, and that might be a special case. But ye know well, Sir Walter, as well as I do, that failing her, there's one of your blood no far from your door that is as weel capable of keeping his ain house and his ain head as Arthur and a' his knights. And that is Peter Oliphant of Over-Kellie——"

"Pah!" the old man spat vehemently into the smouldering fire. "I will have none of him—a country clown—a callant from the plough. And what was his father but a clown before him, with no more spirit of a gentleman than Neil, my man?"

"Neil," said the minister, "is a decent man now, whatever he may have been; but would pocket a crown-piece and hold his tongue if any grand gallant had need of him: whereas your cousin of Over-Kellie, Sir Walter——"

"Cousin! a hundred times removed!"

"Is it you I hear shaming your own blood?" said the other. "Me, I am maybe a hundred times, as you say, or more, removed from the head of my name; but I have yet to learn," the minister added, raising his head, "that the strain of the younger is less pure than the strain of the elder when it flows in an unbroken and lawful line."

"I ken, and we all ken," said Sir Walter, subdued, "minister, that there's no better name in Fife——"

"I am standing upon no such vanities," said Melville. "Your cousin has neither been at the College nor at the Court, Sir Walter, and maybe as well for him in these evil days; but he's a handy man at his weapons, and a lad that kens his own mind. There's no man in the parish better kent or better liked, or more a man of his word. I ken but little of my Lord Oliphant, or of his house; but well I wot there is not a better in it than Pate, or one that can master him, or daunton him, among the best of his name."

"Ye mean the lad to wed one of your lasses, that you are so hot upon him," Sir Walter said.

"I ken well," said Melville, "what lass I want him to wed; but she is none of mine. Will you see the young man, Sir Walter, and judge for yourself? I will bring him to you in my hand, for he has always been a good lad to his minister; though he would not set foot over your door-stane for other motives."

"And wherefore," cried Sir Walter, "would this farmer-lad no set foot over my door-stane?"

"For an evil reason," said the minister; "for pride, and a high head that would not stoop before any man but the king."

"Ha! ha!" cried the old knight; "bring me this clown with his high head that would not stoop under the door of Kellie Castle. Bigger men than him have entered at that door—ay, and stooped too, and even bitten the dust before them that owned it. He's then a deevil of pride and conceit, this yeoman lad of yours."

"Ye are right, and again right, Sir Walter," said the minister, gravely, "when you say that pride, the pride that you, and even myself, that should ken better, take in the vanity of a name—is a devilish thing."

"If that were all!" Sir Walter said, with a snap of his thumb and finger, which failed and gave no sound. He paused, and his countenance grew grave as he observed this, looking with a half piteous surprise at his own large feeble hand. "I canna even snap my thoom," he said under his breath. Then with a feeble wave of that hand to his companion, he added, "If it's to be done, lose no time."

This was the warrant upon which the minister brought Peter Oliphant to Kellie Castle. He had as much trouble with the young man as he had with the old. The house of Over-Kellie was still excited by the flying visit of Mistress Jean when the minister reached it; and the Leddy, or the Gudewife—for Marjory said truly that she was called sometimes one and sometimes the other, according to the courtesy or indifference of her rare visitors—could not be persuaded that the extraordinary mission of the minister had not something to do with that exciting incident. The Mistress felt that her Peter was called to the Castle to receive the hand of the Princess, who must have found time enough in the ten minutes of her stay to fall in love with him; and that this event at once and for ever established his claims as heir-at-law, and made Kellie Castle his. The young man naturally was more hard to be convinced; but he too was excited, and not in perfect command of his faculties. If Jean had discovered that he was a bonnie lad, he had still better means of discovering that she was fair enough to dream of; and though this encounter had made her first aware of him, it was by no means the first time that her humble cousin had seen the young lady of Kellie. And, in the glow of pride with which he remembered, though no such claim had ever been acknowledged, that he was the undoubted next of kin, there was, perhaps, something of a more generous fervour, a warm and noble sentiment towards the friendless girl to whom the head of the house, as all the countryside knew, was little more gentle than towards himself. When Sir Walter died, it was he who would be the nearest in blood to her to defend her rights or herself. The Lord Oliphant might be the head of the name: but he was a man who loved gear, and was secretly operating, as all the countryside believed, to draw the lands of Kellie and the old Castle to himself.

It was therefore with no small exaltation of mind that Peter Oliphant flung his bonnet upon his head, notwithstanding his mother's prayers that he would put on his better suit and the hat in which he appeared at kirk and market, to show his better breeding. "I will not stand covered in Sir Walter's presence," he said; "and, as for my clothes, they're well enough. He knows me for a country loon, whatever fine suit I might wear."

"Loon, did the laddie say? and what next? I would like to see either knight or yeoman, in all Fife, that would dare to call Peter Oliphant loon," his mother said.

"And so would I," he said, with a laugh. He was strong and straight and tall, with the brown hair and the laughing eyes that belonged to his race. But they were eyes that could look fierce enough when occasion required.

"By my troth, I would like that better," he continued, as they set out; "a bout at single-stick, or a good frank blade, I am not that ill at: but what am I to say to the old laird? a man wants lear for a presence-chamber, even if it's but an old knight's."

"You have lear enough for that," said the minister, "if you would but mind half that I have put into you, at the point of the sword, as a man may say."

"A little Latin, and a shelf of old books," said Peter; "but you would not advise me, Maister Melville, to tirl off a verb to Sir Walter, even if I could mind it, the first time he has bethought himself that I'm alive and within reach."

"My lad, I would not lippen to his bethinking himself," said the minister; "just you mind it's mostly my doing, and my credit's concerned. Na, I will not tell you, not a word, what to say; nature will tell you, and that fine spirit of your ain that never let you be overly modest before me. And I hope, so far as learning goes, I am of more account than Sir Walter, if that was of any consequence."

"Little doubt of that," said Peter; but he was wise enough to know that this was indeed of very little consequence, and that it was an extremely different thing standing before the minister in Carnbee manse, though he was a man of learning, and thus stepping suddenly into the presence of old Sir Walter, though he had no letters at all.

CHAPTER III.

Peter Oliphant went into the great hall of Kellie Castle with very mingled feelings. Though he had lived all his life almost within sight of the home of his race, he had never crossed the threshold before; and a kind of awe, a kind of defiance, the inalienable attraction of an ancient family house, mingled with the indignant sentiment of a scion of the family upon whom its door has been always closed, made his cheek glow and his heart beat. This, then, was Kellie, which had been the home of his fathers, which might be his home if justice prevailed and the law of heirship and lineage. It was not a splendid place to overawe him. The house of Kellie was not rich. Whatever superfluity the family had ever possessed, Sir Walter and his sons had managed to get rid of in the days when they went to England with King James—perhaps, like so many Scotch gentlemen, in hope of advancement, but, like so many more, only wasting their small substance in a brief attempt to hold head among the great English lords ten times as rich as they were. There were few signs of grandeur in the hall: a little show of silver on the buffet; heavy old velvet curtain with tarnished embroideries; some carved furniture of noble workmanship, marked with the three crescents of the family arms. Those arms were dimly blazoned, too, on the high, carved mantelpiece, with that proud motto which poverty turns into a brag or a jest, according to the humour of the wearer—À tout pourvoir. Peter knew that much at least, if no other word, of the French tongue, and had said it over to himself many a day. It was but a sad word in the old house that had little to provide and few to provide for—none but the old man and the helpless girl. But if ever this house should come to the strong hands, that if strength and labour and daring could do it would, so help him heaven! carry it out to the letter! Peter's head, all throbbing and resounding with excitement, was in a state of exaltation to which he had never felt the parallel. And as it happened, the first thing that met his eye was Mistress Jean, the heroine of the other day's half-adventure. She was seated on a stool in the recess of the great window, with a great book clasped in her arms, too heavy to hold, and over which she was stooping, bent almost double. Jean's kirtle was not so well preserved nor her snood so fresh as those of his own little sister at Over-Kellie: and to his yeoman's eyes she was doing nothing useful, nor perhaps able to do anything useful—a creature not made for common occupations, but to be kept in sweet leisure and pleasure like one of the lilies of the field. À tout pourvoir! Here was one of the things for which it would be his duty to provide. The thought brought a sudden glow over him—the heat of resolution and enthusiasm. It was the climax of all those mingled and tumultuous thoughts that had been surging in his breast.

Jean looked up at the sound of the heavy steps ringing upon the floor, and, throwing down her heavy book, darted forward; but, seized with a sudden access of shyness, stopped and drew back before she had come up to the visitors, and stood looking at them—herself a very pleasant image, impetuous yet timid, her figure suddenly arrested in all its swiftness of motion, her lips in their meaning of speech. The sight of Peter Oliphant, so unexpected an apparition, made her dumb.

"We have come, Mistress Jean," said Mr Melville, "to speak a word with Sir Walter, so please you, and by your brother's ain desire."

"By his—ain desire!" Jean looked at the pair before her. The well-known figure of the minister, and the other, so much more interesting, still in all the novelty of recent discovery, a personage not precisely like the young Ansters of her acquaintance, wanting something, possessing something, a different kind of being. Indeed the rustic young gentlemen were but little superior even in breeding to this handsome yeoman, with his greater maturity and higher consciousness of life and its struggles. They were good to laugh with, to mock at, to dance with on the very few occasions when such an opportunity occurred. But she had met with a reality of life in the person of this modest yet ardent young man, who reddened when he looked at her, which Jean had never encountered before. At Sir Walter's own desire! was it on account of herself, for some reason connected with that meeting, which some one must have betrayed and reported? This idea had no time to grow, but it flashed upon her suddenly, almost choking her with the sudden rise and hurried pulsation of her heart.

"We will but bide a moment with your permission till Maister Neil comes forth to bid us to the knight's presence," said the minister. "And it will not be long, seeing the hour was fixed by himsel'."

"There is somebody with him," said Jean: and then her awe of the situation yielding a little as she grew familiar with it, she laughed and added, "It is one you do not love."

"And who may that be?" said Melville. His question was answered in a way much more significant than any reply of hers. The curtain over the door of Sir Walter's sitting-room was audibly thrust back, without, however, revealing immediately the person coming forth: and a voice said, speaking to the old knight within, "My lord shall hear every word of your good intentions, every word! it is the thought of a true kinsman, whatever comes. Be sure my lord shall hear: and farewell, sir, and the blessing of God."

The new-comer paused to draw the curtain back to its usual folds, covering the door, and then he turned round, and with a hasty exclamation of surprise became aware of the group in the hall. He was more conspicuous in his dress as a clergyman than was the minister of Carnbee, with something on his dark head that suggested a tonsure, though no such mark of the beast was permitted in Scotland, and wearing the cassock of a priest. He came forward, however, with much appearance of cordiality, "Ah, Brother Melville, it's long since we met! If we've both come on the same ghostly errand, I wot our penitent will get something confused in his Belief."

"I come on no ghostly errand," said Mr Melville, "but concerning the affairs of this fleeting world: which have their importance too, as you will agree with me."

"That do I—and whiles more bewildering still," said the Curate of Pittenweem, rubbing his hands. "We have no doubt the luck, my kind neighbour, to take different views on that subject too."

"It may be so," Melville replied gravely, but he added no more. He had no inclination to disclose his hand, as his opponent had done involuntarily by those last words behind the curtain. Low of Pittenweem looked at him fiercely, but without any visible change of tone.

"And how's all with you, Pate?" he said with a smile. "I heard a bonnie story the other day of one of these wild soldier fellows that are just a pest on the roads, and how he was scared away and took the road west, meddling with no person: for fear of a certain muckle rider, bigger than himself, from the Over-Kellie gait."

"Oh, and it was me, Sir John!" cried Jean; "and the loon was after me on my pony, till there came in sight——" Jean stopped suddenly, crimson all over, half with annoyance at herself for having spoken, half because of the smiling glance which Low directed from her to Peter Oliphant, and back again—a smile which developed into a low laugh of malice, and which filled her with unaccountable shame.

"There came in sight—the palladin, the grand knight"—he said these words to the accompaniment of his laugh, till every line of Peter's rustic dress, the blue bonnet in his hand, the heavy shoes on his feet, seemed to come out under the sarcastic look, as if the curate had been holding up a candle to show their roughness. And then he turned away, still laughing softly to himself, and rubbing his hands. "I will not interrupt such braw company," he said. "Good day to you, Mistress Jean: and I wish ye, madam, a good fulfilment to all your virtuous wishes; and one of those days ye can tell your mother, Pate, I'll come in for a crack, and to hear the country news. Brother Melville, we'll probably not be so long, you and me, this time of meeting again."

"Maybe not, Maister Low," said Melville.

"Wherever the —— is, there will the eagles be gathered together," said the other, going lightly towards the door, with a wave of his hand and a nod of his head. Mr Melville drew a long breath.

"That is no canny forerunner," he said, "Peter, my good lad, for you and me; but I will haste and see if the auld knight is weariet, or if he'll see you still. Bide here for me."

When Peter was left alone with the young lady, there was a pause of much embarrassment between these two young people, so suddenly brought together by malicious suggestion, and by the involuntary flash of thought that went from one to another, in the unlikely and unexpected combination, in which all suddenly, in a moment, they had been placed. Jean, who was full of saucy words at other times and in other company, at this moment, when she would have given all her small possessions for the power to throw one jibe at him, could not find a word to say. It was Peter, whose grave mood had more solidity and could better resist the excitement of the situation, who was the first to speak. "I have a charge from my mother, Mistress Jean, with her duty—which is maybe more than is due from her to you; but my mother, Lady Jean, though she is the best woman in the world, was but a farmer's daughter, and cannot get out of her head that the Laird's daughter is a Princess in the land."

"I have no quarrel with her for that," said Jean, restored to herself; "but if I am a Princess you will maybe live to be the King. Here we are, us two, and it's between us, Maister Peter. You are the just heir; but I am the more just if it were not that I am a lassie, and whose fault is that? I am sure it is by no will of mine."

"My Lady Jean," said Peter, "you say well it is my just right, as the next man of the blood; but if by Sir Walter's will it should fall to you, as may be—mind you this, whatever happens, I'll stand for you through fire and water, and be your man, and a true kinsman, as long as I live."

"No me!" cried Jean, giving a spring in her excitement. "If it falls to you, I'll fight you every step, and go to the law with you, and never yield while I've breath!"

Peter looked at her with a tender admiration—but that ineffable way of taking the girl's hot words as if they meant nothing, which not even love itself can make palatable to a girl. "Well-a-well," he said gently, "the one thing and the other they mean just about the same."

"But nothing of the kind," she cried, almost with a soft shout of passion, "nothing of the kind! they mean——" here it suddenly struck Jean quite irrelevantly, as he stood before her with a deprecating smile, by every turn of his figure and change of his face recommending himself to her, seeking to please her, asking nothing better than to serve and help her,—suddenly and supremely that he was a bonnie lad, that nobody had ever looked at her like that, nor spoken to her like that before. She stopped and gasped and put out her hand to him, which was as unexpected as any other of her movements. "Cousin Peter," she cried, "there's my hand upon it; we'll be grand enemies! We'll be true as auld Sir William's sword, that he keepit the Castle of Stirling with, that hangs there upon the wall. We'll fight fair, and never say an ill word one of the other. And there's my hand."

She expected nothing but a comrade's grasp; but young Pate of Over-Kellie had the gracious manners of the old chivalry, without knowing whence they came. He stooped low almost to his knee, and kissed the hand held out to him—an unlooked-for homage which altogether overwhelmed the rustic maiden, who was scarcely by her own nature a lady of romance. And at that moment the heavy curtain was drawn, and Mr Melville's head put out calling Peter. The sudden light of a delightful smile shone over the minister's face. "Ah!" he said, with a soft laugh, which was not of ridicule but content. It was enough, however, to send Jean back to her window-seat, all one blush, and to make Peter draw himself up almost to more than his stature, as very red and portentously serious he followed, transported out of all his nervousness about Sir Walter—into the presence of the old knight.

Sir Walter sat by the fire, which smouldered sullenly, as if it felt the inappropriateness of its presence on a warm spring day, as the centre of the scene. But the old Master of Kellie was cold, the blood ran slow in his veins, and all the fires of living were as low in him as the dull glow in the coals. The gown in which he was enveloped was lined with fur, and wrapped closely round him; and his head was so sunk into its soft collar that the effect of his upward look was as if a pair of eyes alone looked over his raised shoulder at the young man who came in. But there was life in the look, which contradicted every other sign of diminished vitality. It seemed almost to strike at Peter like the flash of a blade into the air. The steel-like light quivered, and then suddenly the old man turned his head away. There was a pause, and both of his visitors thought for a moment that the old knight had fallen asleep or lost consciousness—till at last the minister spoke, half alarmed. He touched with a finger the wide sleeve of Sir Walter's coat. "Here is the young lad, Sir Walter. Come in bye, Pate—show yourself—and be not blate. What, man! ye are here in what may be your own house."

Peter took a step forward into the room, opposite to the light which fell full upon him, his somewhat rustic air lost in the temporary exaltation of his look; but Sir Walter had returned to his fire, and looked at him no more. His voice came out of the fur collar of his gown, as out of a cave. "Ay! the young lad, say you? And what is his will, and his errand here?"

"Speak to him, man; speak to him!" said the minster, in an undertone.

"I have no purpose, Sir Walter," said Peter; "but that ye were thought to send for me; and me—I was very willing to come, as your kinsman, and to ask how you did."

"Ay!" said Sir Walter again, "as my kinsman! Blate! I see little sign that he is blate. Let him speak for himself. There are plenty of loons in Fife that will swear themselves my kinsmen, however they came by the name."

Peter was stung by this disdainful speech. "I am no loon," he said, "minister, as you well know; and as for how I got the name, Sir Walter he kens weel, seeing I am but his second cousin, when all is done, twice removed."

"Ah, so! are you all that?" said the old knight: he raised his head, and once more Peter felt himself struck as by a flame. But again the light quivered, and Sir Walter swerved, and his head sank among his furs. Then he added, averting his look, "What is your will of me, young man?"

"Nothing," said Peter. His heart swelled, a sudden sense of pity moved him for the desolate old age before him—so lonely, so void of all the charities and tenderness which ought to encircle the old. "And yet," he said, a remorseful sense of all his own advantages over this solitary, chilled, and suffering old man melting his spirit, "Sir Walter, if there was any pleasure I could do you, for the sake of the drop's blood between us, and because you have none of your own——"

"Eh! eh! what is that he says?—what is that he says?"

"Sir, I would fain, fain do you a pleasure, if that were possible," Peter said.

It was some time before the old knight spoke. "Gramercy for your kindness, lad," he said; "I have plenty to do for me all I want. I seek no service from the like of you."

"Yet it would be given out of a good heart," Peter said.

These words of manly kindness to the weak, given with an insistence of which Peter, blate of nature as the minister had said—that is, proudly shy of expressing emotion, as it is the drawback of his countrymen to be—would not have believed himself capable, made a curious commotion in the still air of that chamber, where all was stagnant, and life and charity were seldom heard. Sir Walter put out a blanched hand with a gesture to the minister, calling him forward, "Ye have tutored the lad what to say."

"I would think shame," said Melville, "to try to tutor what's native to a gentle spirit. And, Sir Walter, you are more understanding than to believe what you say."

The old knight dropped his head again, and was silent once more. Then he said, without raising his face, with his eyes fixed on the low red of the fire, and a voice half buried in his fur collar, "Did I hear ye say Pate?"

"His name is Peter——"

"Pate," repeated the old man, vaguely. "There was once another—but keen, keen as a hawk, and gallant, and fine in every limb. Not like that yeoman from the fields. Take him hence, take him hence! There is that in the turn of his head that goes, that goes"—he made a pause, and gave forth a long slow breath "to my hert!"

And again there was silence. Peter would have stolen away by natural instinct, but did not dare to break the deep stillness by a movement, and the minister stood doubtful, hesitating, afraid to shorten an interview that might have important results, yet afraid at the same time to injure the impression that had been made.

"Ay, Pate," Sir Walter said almost to himself, "Pate—like day to night, like a prince to a churl—but just a turn of the head, a trick of the voice. Eh! ye are still here? is it a service do ye think, young man, to spy on the privacy of one that, kinsman or no kinsman, is the head of your name?" he raised himself, putting his hand upon the table—"in Fife," he added with a faint laugh, "in Fife—saving the rights of my lord. Ay, my lord, that's the question. Well, sir! I thank ye for your coming, and dismiss ye from further attendance. Master Melville, at your leisure I will see you again."

The hall was vacant when Peter, with strange visions through his brain, confused with his own good impulses and the less kind ones that came hurrying after, stepped into it again. He did not know what he had expected or hoped for, but there was disappointment and a little offence in his mind. He was not sure if he had acquitted himself as a man in this unusual trial or if he had failed. He was new to all these strange and conflicting feelings. The old man in his chamber, the death in life which Pate's animated youth had never seen before, and the young lady in the hall, had given to him equally a great thrill and sensation of the novel and unknown. Life seemed to have begun for him to-day.

CHAPTER IV.

In Sir Walter's chamber, after that interview, there were many comings and goings. Sir John Low, as it was still the habit to call the curate, came every day, for the knight, in the many fluctuations of his mind, had at the last swayed towards the ritual and formulas to which he had been accustomed in his youth, and there were consolations boldly administered, though with precaution, by the curate which the minister, although no further removed than the next parish, would have esteemed sinful mummeries and offences to the truth. Mr Melville gave no absolution, which the curate dispensed with confidence, soothing the aged gentleman with rites by which his wavering mind was supported, though he could not give above half his attention to them, but sat turning over and over in his mind the one question that occupied him even when the viaticum was put to his lips. Sir John came and went, and a silent man from St Andrews, with a soberly clad attendant bearing a bag full of papers and an inkhorn, also came and went, spending hours in the Castle, and called in ever for a new discussion by the major-domo, Neil Morison, who shared all the consultations, to which indeed his master gave but the same distracted half attention which he gave to the rites of the Church. The time had come to him when he could not fix his mind to anything—whether it was those matters which were pressed upon him as for his soul's weal, or those others which were in reality the permanent subjects of his thoughts. Sir Walter, indeed, amid his dreams and distractions, which broke everything with which he was occupied as an image reflected in water is broken by every blowing breeze, was conscious of many people coming and going, who were not seen of men. While he pondered over the disposal of his property, his sons, to whom it should have gone by course of nature, came and went fitfully, more clearly realised at those moments when, in his malaise of mind and body, he became impotent of all other thoughts, and turned towards them as of old. Something had brought them back into the still air of that death-chamber—something which no one knew of, which the old man himself did not understand. It was the look of young Pate Oliphant, the turn of his head, something in his voice, those subtle tokens of kin which come and go, broken always, like that same reflection in water, not to be traced, but thrilling for a moment now and then through every nerve. That fugitive likeness had not inclined him towards Peter of Over-Kellie. It had struck out rather a tone of wrath, of harsh contrariety and opposition in his mind—with the impulse to push that interloper out of his way who dared to remind him of Pate, his own Pate of the other times. In his confusion of mind he did not remember how that suggestion came—had he dared to speak of Pate, this stranger who had no right? He forgot how it came. But Pate and the others had come back: they were vaguely about him, always eluding him when he would have appealed to them—present there he felt, by some secret understanding, known only to himself and them, which if he betrayed it would harm them all. And Sir John, quieting all the vague terrors in the old man's mind in respect to death—terrors only half real, too, for nothing was very real with Sir Walter—mingled other counsels, suggestions of another name in which there perhaps was an escape from the confusion of his soul.

The silent man from St Andrews disappeared one dim morning when the world was all white, stifled in an easterly haar, after a sitting of an hour with Sir Walter in his chamber—and that afternoon when the minister of Carnbee appeared he was informed that all was nearly over, and that the old knight, who had hung so long between life and death, was in the very act of ending. The curtain was held back that Mr Melville might enter; but as this was at the very moment when Sir John was bending over the couch of the sufferer administering those rites which were sacrilege to the preacher, Melville solemnly and indignantly withdrew, and stood outside till all should be over. He stood against the curtain with a stern expression on his face, his eyes half closed, his lips sometimes moving. I fear he was angry that this mummery should be permitted in a "Christian land," and thought many a harsh word of his brother, even while he prayed fervently for the passing soul which these rites were dismissing in peace. A little time after Sir John emerged, solemn too, yet with something of triumph in his look. "He hath gone forth well provided on his last journey," he said; "his end has been peace." "If you call that peace," Melville could not keep from saying; "I hope his end was also justice." "It was judgment," said the other priest, walking back as if in a procession with his little vials: and the old hall, so large, so empty, its great windows full of the whitened mist, the shroud of the haar that covered all things, looked more desolate, cold bare, and empty of life than words could say.

Before Sir Walter was carried to his rest in the family vault in Carnbee kirkyard it was known all over Fife that Kellie Castle and estates had been left by his will neither to his sister nor to the next of kin, but to the head of the family, my Lord Oliphant, then in London with King James, and not likely to put himself to much trouble in doing honour to the funeral. It is true that he was the head of the family, and also that there existed an additional link in the fact that Sir Walter had married his sister. But the fief of Kellie was one which came not from the parent house, but was acquired for his own hand by the original holder, the founder of this branch, so that its bequest to the chief was no reversion, but a free gift. Lord Oliphant was not rich; and poor as had been the state kept by the old knight in the lingering end of his days, his inheritance was not one to be despised. The knowledge made a great sensation in the neighbourhood, where there had been many speculations on the subject, the claims of Mistress Jean and of Pate Oliphant having been largely discussed. By some of the neighbours it had been believed that Sir Walter had no right to exclude the heir-at-law; but this had been warmly disputed by others, who held that the death of all the immediate members of his own family left the old knight a free hand, and that, in the absence of any legal settlement, he had a right to do what he liked with his own. His funeral brought together all the gentry from that side of Fife, both gentle and simple indeed, of the East Neuk, neighbours and tenants, a numerous company. And at this ceremony the positions of the two clergymen were reversed. Sir John of Pittenweem was not looked upon with very favourable eyes in the Kingdom, and his return to the ancient ways, though it had to be winked at by those who were aware that authority was no longer entirely on the side of the Reformed Kirk, and that protection was now extended even to something very like the odious Mass—was much against him in the opinion of the multitude. That he had "played his cantrips" about the dying man was whispered from one to another, and that he was a rank prelatist was universally known. Maister Melville, that excellent and sound divine, had now all the say.

There were other strange features in this funeral which were long remembered. For one thing, there was nobody to conduct the mourning with authority. Peter Oliphant stepped forward to follow the coffin, and no one gainsaid his right to take the place of chief mourner; but he was modest and a little backward in marshalling the others, notwithstanding the support he received from several of the chief gentlemen present, who acknowledged the title of the next of kin, even though it was known that he was not the heir. But was he not the heir? would not natural right prevail, though in opposition to an old man's testament, a doited old man! These words were freely spoken even as the long procession set out upon the heavy country road, winding dark and silent between the hedgerows. Was he not a doited old man? Had not he taken, as somebody had related, Pate Oliphant for his own son Pate, who, poor lad, had been but a rover, and broken, folk said, his father's heart? And there were some even who whispered that it was with the idea that Pate of Over-Kellie was his own Pate, and to punish that ne'er-do-weel, that Sir Walter in his dotage had left his lands away from the natural heir. This discussion, however, was not all or even the most remarkable part of what occurred. For at the cross-roads, where the way to Carnbee turned off from the highway, a young gentleman, followed by three or four retainers, came up almost at a gallop, with every sign of hard riding, and in his travelling-dress, and made an effort to disturb the decorum of the funeral by forcing his horse into the line and taking the place next to the coffin where Pate walked leading the procession. This incident caused a pause, and such an interruption of the solemnity as threw the line of the mourners into confusion, and turned the conventional stillness and whispered conversations of the funeral party into something like a brawl. The new-comer proclaimed himself the representative of Lord Oliphant, his son, sent to render the last honours to his kinsman, and could only be prevented with the greatest difficulty from taking his place forcibly at the head. This noisy interruption, and the bad manners of the young gallant, who, when prevented from taking the place of Pate, rode on himself and his followers at either side of the coffin, breaking the quiet not only by the excitement of their appearance but by the clangour of their ride, and the breach of all those Scotch decorums which have always been so rigid in respect to burial. Brawling at such a moment was not indeed unheard of, any more than at any other moment, in the temper of the times. But the depths of the peaceful country, where no such thing had been thought of, and where my Lord Oliphant had neither friend nor enemy, was displeasing to all. Nevertheless, perhaps, had it not been for the steady backing of the minister and one or two of the elder men, the position of Pate would have been a disagreeable one; for the sympathies of the gentry were more with the Master of Oliphant than with the humbler youth, whose blood they acknowledged, but whose breeding had been that of a yeoman rather than of a landed gentleman. Pate himself, however, proved his gentility by a bearing much more noble than that of the intruder. He held his place with determination and without flinching, yielding no step. And thus they carried old Sir Walter to his grave.

On the return, however, Pate was less certain of his right and less supported. It was the intruder then who had the upper hand. The elder men might look coldly upon so irreverent an assertion of the position; but the younger ones, who knew, or desired to know, the Master of Oliphant, were glad to push forward, to claim his acquaintance, and to accompany him back to Kellie Castle, where at least he had now the first right to be. Pate felt himself left behind to the company of the tenants and the smaller lairds, who, like himself, were rather patronised than on an equal footing with the great proprietors. Mr Melville made an effort to draw him into the quiet of the manse, which would have been safer; but it was more natural that, indignant and injured as he felt himself, he should prefer the sympathy of the others, who were full of angry suggestion and advice. The young man had been profoundly disappointed and cast down by Sir Walter's will. It was the destruction of his brightest hopes: but it had not occurred to him that the question was not closed, or that there might still be a chance of having justice done him. Now the utterances of companions were no longer in whispers. The doited auld man? Was he indeed a doited auld man? Pate thought of the heavy look, the dreamy eye, the sudden kindling like a flame of Sir Walter's brief words and moments of animation. He shook his head at first, but afterwards his own mind took fire. It was galling to hear the voices, already gay, of the others who clustered round young Oliphant, and streamed after him, full of pleasure in the excitement of the stranger's arrival, and also in their release from the gloomy ceremony: he and his friends came behind, and different were their tones and their looks.

"It is e'en like the impudence of thae minions of the Court," said one of the neighbours, "that follow the English fashion, and despise their native ways."

"English fashion or no," said another, "right is right. Body and banes! if it were me, I would have my lord before the Feifteen before I drew breath."

"And let them prove that the old knight was fit to mak' a disposition——"

"I'll tell ye just this, Over-Kellie," said one of the tenants, raising an expository hand. "I had a word with Andrew Morison, that is the cousin of Neil at the Castle, and the hired man of Maister Playfair of St Andrews, the writer—him ye ken of. He had a look within yon closed cha'mer, at his maister's call, to bring in the papers. And Andrew, he says the auld man was like an auld ghaist—the colour o' the pairchment spread out on the table, and his een dead in his heid."

"Which was nowise natural," said another. "I hae seen him mysel', when there was question o' a feu or siclike, that took his pairt, and a free-spoken man that would hae his argument and tak' his jest like another. You'll no tell me it's the time to test, when a man's like yon."

"If it had been a reasonable testament——"

"Or like a leal kinsman: now Sir Walter was aye considered a very honourable person when he was in his own command."

"Pate Oliphant," said one of his own comrades, "I would fecht till my last drop o' blood, before I wad yield Kellie Castle and your auld name to a popinjay of an Englished lord."

"My auld name," said Pate, holding his head high, "is in no danger, Beatoun, from any man."

"Oh, ay, ay," cried Beatoun, impatiently, "we all ken your pride. But Oliphant of Over-Kellie is one thing and Oliphant of Kellie Castle is another: and Lord! if it were but for this day's work——"

"Cause enough, and reason gude for feud or fray; but it's law and not blood that's in the question," said another. "A bit of yellow pairchment and a muckle false seal, and the name of a doited auld man!"

All these speeches and many more of the same kind rang in Pate's ear and echoed through and through him as he rode home.

CHAPTER V.

The house of Over-Kellie had not the dignity of the Castle; yet the living-room into which Peter strayed with absent eyes, flinging himself down on an oak bench beside the long table, was not entirely without pretension. The windows were high in the walls; the fire was a wide-spreading ingle, with some seats under its ruddy arch. A large oaken table occupied the centre of the room; but it was kept with greater care than was common, cleanly swept, with a pair of large silver candlesticks on the high mantel-shelf, and some carving on the panels. On one side of the fireplace a casement had been put in with a broad sill, so that the women might have light for their work, and weapons hung upon the walls by way of ornament—an old Andrea Ferrara, and some pieces of plain armour such as were worn by squires and yeomen. The only thing that made any stronger call upon the attention was the carving of the mantelpiece, on which there was what seemed a rough copy of the shield which occupied a similar position at Kellie Castle, with the motto sprawling in rather ungainly letters, out of proportion with the armorial bearings, À tout pourvoir, in a lengthened scroll by itself.

The Leddy, or, to compromise the matter, the Mistress of Over-Kellie, which was a title equally befitting, whether she was by right Gudewife or Leddy, came hurriedly out of the house to greet Pate, eager to hear all that had happened, and what had specially befallen himself in this crisis of his affairs. The Mistress had still hoped, or persuaded herself she hoped, that the previous news about Sir Walter's will might be untrue; and, as she followed her son up the few steps which led to the great room, had overflowed in a string of questions, echoed by her daughter Margaret, who followed close upon her steps. "Oh, Pate! what did they say till ye? was the writer there? was there any person that had authority? Pate, my man, did you lay his head in the grave?—for sure, it was your right."

"Ay," said Peter, "I laid his head in the grave—muckle good as that did me; for sure, as you say, it was my right."

"And is it true about the testament?" asked his sister.

"It canna be true—I will not believe it: it is but the ill-will of Maister Playfair," said the Mistress; "they were ever against our house."

"Mother, mother, what has the writer to do with it? he cannot alter what Sir Walter says. But maybe it is not so ill as we thought," said Margaret, with devouring eyes on her brother's face.

"Let me be! let me be! I would like a stoup of your ale, mother. The roads are very heavy both for man and beast."

"You are tired, my bonnie lad! Na, I'll not say another word," said the Mistress, while Margaret flew down-stairs to get him the refreshment he asked. "We might have thought if we had not been so taken up concerning the news. Na, na, I will not hurry you, my Patie. Just take your time, my bonnie lad!"

And she seated herself on the settle near the fire, and took up, not without a little ostentation and with a sigh of excitement, her habitual work. Margaret stood gazing on the other side of the table while he drank, and their united force of curiosity and suspense moved him more by repression than it had done by utterance.

"Well, then," said Pate, "hear this: my Lord Oliphant—that is the head of our name—if I were ten times over the first of it in Fife, no mortal man can contradict that."

A sob of opposition and protest came from the overcharged bosom of the Mistress. Mortal man she was not, but woman; and therefore resistant to every statement which diminished the importance of those she loved.

"The head of our name," repeated Pate, with a wave of his hand, in fine acknowledgment of an allegiance which was not agreeable to him. "There is therefore excuse, if excuse were wanted. It is no alienation; but might, in the language of some persons, be conceived a giving back."

Pate was not without his share of schooling; he could be sententious, which has always been a possibility to a Scotsman, when he chose.

"Given back!" said the quick Margaret, "but it never came from thence. Look at the Buik, and look at the tree. It was no fief of Aberdalghie, but won by our awin spear and our awin bow."

The women were wild with this outrageous pretence; but Pate, whose heart, he thought, was broken, bent his head down on his hands and spoke no word.

Afterwards he began to tell them what had happened, which they listened to with cries of indignation and wrath. If it had been the Prince of Scotland (or of Wales, as it was heard with indignation that the heir of the crown was now to be called) who had tried to push forth Pate from his lawful place, his mother and sister would have risked their loyalty to resist it. But a young popinjay of a Master of Oliphant, as Robbie Beatoun had justly said! And then by degrees they elicited from Pate all he had heard about Sir Walter's incompetence, and how Sir John and the Writer between them had swayed his mind, in spite of all that Maister Melville, good friend and true, had been able to do.

"I am no for fechting," said the Mistress. "I've seen more of it in my time than I would desire to see again; but to sustain a mortal wrong, and not to say a word—I would raise the country afore I would abide that."

"I would rather sell my shoon off my feet, and my gown off my back!" said Margaret, ever the first to see what was the real question.

"Whisht, mother, whisht! If it was to raise the country and haud the Castle against whoever should oppose! Ah!" cried Pate, with a sigh, "that was the way in the former days, when there was a king in Scotland."

"And what for no?" cried the Mistress, with a gleam of war in her eyes; but then she threw her apron over her head and began to cry. "The Lord forgive me," she said; "to bid the lads to fecht, that are aye o'er ready; and me that have seen the son brought in stiff and stark to his ain mother's hearthstane! Oh no, my Patie, no! I am an ill woman to think such thoughts."

"If that were the way of it!" cried Pate. "But the strong hand will not serve us, mother; and he is the chief of our name. How could I rouse the fisher-lads at St Monance, that are most Oliphants, against the head of our own name?"

"There's not one of them but would follow you, Pate. It is you that are the head of the name!"

"Whisht, Peggy!—to their death and the ruin of their sma' houses, and starvation to their bairns—me that should rather feed and fend them!" Peter half turned with a wave of his hand towards the motto rudely carved upon the mantelpiece, "À tout pourvoir." He pronounced it as his equal might do to-day, Aw toutt pourvoïre. "If ye ken nothing else, you ken the meaning of that."

The women turned their eyes to it sadly, both answering, yet with reluctance, to the spell. "Indeed it was an ill day it was pitten there," said the Mistress, shaking her head. "Your father, honest man—and blessed be his rest!—was just wud of these auld words. Never was there a crown-piece to ware upon unthankful folk but yon was what he said. Yon fishers in St Monance! He would point it to me that would have held him back, and says he, 'Ye dinna understand, Marg'ret, but I understand. The haill tot provided for: that's what it means—and the honour of my name.' 'Laird, laird,' I aye said, 'you are far o'er muckle taken up with the honour of your name.'"

"Not so," said Pate.

"Never so!" cried young Margaret, kindled and shining forth, her eyes "keen with honour" in a glow of youth and brightness against the old dull panelled wall.

"And that is just what cuts deepest," said the young man—"the law, and the siller: it is either to abide the wrong, or to risk the pickle land and the old rooftree, and your living, mother. Say that Peggy is safe in Rob Beatoun's hands. But there is you and me, and them that hang upon us. Me, I could go away to the wars in Germany, where there's ever place for a Scot, like many a kinsman before me; but that would be no pleasant issue for my mother."

"O Pate! Pate!" she cried, otherwise speechless, holding up her hands in an agony.

"And the plea at law," he went on. "The plea at law! there's something that is as devouring as the grave. And it's that is the only way. Look, mother! shall I take your living and mine and fling it to thae dogues? I might get righted of my wrong; but if not we would be beggars, with a wallet on our back and a staff in our hand. And what would come of the name then, or the old o'erword of the name? My heart is just broken," cried Pate, with a wild movement of his arms. "Run the risk of everything we yet possess—or else brook the wrong. How is a man to decide? Whiles I think I would sooner perish than brook the wrong——"

"You must not do it, you must not do it!" cried the mother and daughter in one breath.

"Or be counted among the dyvors at the horn," cried Pate. "The broken men that have neither land nor dwelling to their name. The Lord preserve me! but I am in a sore strait. Dishonour one way and ruin the t'other. To be stripped of all, or to sit still like a coward and brook the wrong and the shame."

At this moment the attention of the agitated group was suddenly diverted. The sound of a horse's hoofs, urged in a headlong gallop along the road, had been audible for a minute or two: and now there rang into the air the sudden clash of the swinging gate, the bringing up of a horse upon the paved yard, and the sound of some one flinging from the saddle. "Where are they? in the big room?" some one cried: and the door swinging open admitted Mistress Jean from the Castle, breathless with haste, excitement, and agitation, her fair face glowing, her bright hair waving, her riding-skirt splashed with the heavy mud of the road. "Oh take me in!" she cried. "Oh save me, Leddy; I have no place to hide my head, and Kellie has come into a stranger's hands."

"My bonnie bairn!" cried the Mistress, rising from her seat, "who has dared to frichten you like this?"

"Oh, I'm safe, I'm safe," cried Mistress Jean, "now I'm here. But I thought I would never win here——" She flung herself into the great chair from which the Mistress had risen. "The hall is full of men," she said, pushing back her hair from her forehead, "drinking wine and holding muckle loud talk—and my brother, Sir Walter, that was lying there yestreen, only laid in his grave this very day."

"If there was any man that dared," cried Peter, flaming up in response, with a kindled eye and flashing face, "to lay a little finger upon you——"

"On me!" cried Mistress Jean, in high disdain. "He would have brooked a buffet in reply, and that I can answer for; but yonder young lord—if he's the Maister of Oliphant, as they say, he does muckle harm to a good name—he cried to me as a bonnie lass, the coward loon! and held wine to me to drink the health of the new lord—me! that am Leddy by all rules in my ain right."

"And so you are," cried Margaret; "I have ever said so—if nature and law were the same."

The Mistress shook her head. "Not for a lass, not for a lass!" she said; but her kind hand rested with a caressing touch upon the girl's shoulder. "Think no more o't," she said, "my bonnie doo! you are safe here."

"But I must think more of it," cried Mistress Jean. "I am no doo, but of a fighting race. He is riding off the morn, that painted pyet of a Maister—maybe to-night. And by St Margaret!—which is a good oath, for we bear her blood—I'll hold the auld house against him and all his! I will do it! Cousin Pate, you're my chief vassal, for you're the next of the name: you're my captain; up with you, when you hear what I say! Raise every Oliphant in Fife. They are no maidens spinning at their wheels, but buirdly men!"

Pate had started with a reddening cheek at the word vassal; but with another glance at her, a smile of wonderful tenderness and brightness came over his face, and he bowed his head with a look of mingled reverence and protection beautiful to see. "That am I," he said, "and at my Lady's bidding I'll——" He paused again. The old cloud, dissipated for a moment, came over him. "But, Mistress Jean," he said, "bethink you first what it will be. Clean rebellion against King and law."

"I have ever been a Queen's woman," cried Jean; "and that for your law!" she cried, snapping her fingers, "that takes your native heritage out of your hands, because, at God's will, not your own, you are a lass born instead of a man!"

"Eh! and from the man also—the true heir—at the will of a doited auld laird," cried the Mistress, forgetting the foremost grace of hospitality in her indignation for her son.

"How dare you call my brother, Sir Walter, a doited——" cried Jean, with flashing eyes. And then suddenly she calmed down. "It's maybe true, since both him and me we are cheated of our rights. And are ye then so slack, Peter Oliphant, that for the sake of King and law ye will not stand to defend your own?"

"Lady Jean," said Pate, "I and mine are at your orders, and our right is the same; but for the lads that would follow me, and rise at your name—the fishers at St Monance, the small farmers intill Carnbee—every man with his little gear that he has gathered out of the heavy ploughland or the stormy sea—do ye mind that every one would be putten to the horn, their sma' tenements levelled with the earth, and their bairns scattered to the winds? For this house we are ready, though it means want for my mother and banishment (at the best) for me. We were not even without a thought of it, as they will tell you,—though I allow for our own hand,—till that glowered at me in the face."

"What?" cried Jean, staring wildly, as if he had pointed to a ghost.

He pointed again in silence to the fireplace, where Jean's lighter eyes caught the rough carving with a flutter of volatile observation. "Eh!" she cried, "but it's ill done! But all this mocking, and I want a true man. What are these auld words—if I kent what they meant—to you, Peter Oliphant, and me?"

"They are just the o'erword of the race," he said, "that our fathers have left to us—the best they could, and the most meaning in the least buik.[1] To provide for all, that's what it means—no to devote them to death and ruin for our service. Mistress Jean, when you think well of it, that will suffice, I trow, for you and me."

[1] Smallest space.

"I trow no such thing!" cried the girl; "for what should a man die for if not for his laird's rights, or his leddy's, as the case may be? Is there aucht more honourable, Pate?—a good cause and a good weapon, and stout auld walls to hold against the world! Me, that am only a lass, the more's the pity, it would put pith into the very arm of me!"

She held it out, pushing up her sleeve—a well-knit, vigorous, brown arm, but so slim and soft that 'the tension of the general feeling was relieved by the sudden laugh into which she herself was the first to break. "But a pistol covers all that," she added afterwards. "I could load and I could fire with any man."

"But no to shoot a neighbour dead," said Margaret, with a shiver, holding the soft arm with two caressing hands, smoothing down the sleeve over it with a tender touch. The thrill ran through the other, too, though she tossed her fair head.

"I did not say a neighbour; but if it was yon fause gallant, with his air like a lady's love, and his coarse cry to what he thought was a lass of no account——Yon was no gentleman, Cousin Pate," she said, turning to him with a glance which made Pate's face glow crimson, and filled his heart with a sudden flood of pride and exhilaration. The appeal in itself carried a sanction higher than that of any court of honour. Jean's implied acknowledgment of her rustic cousin's highest claim could not have animated him more had it come from the king upon his throne.

But the lamp burned late that night in the windows of Over-Kellie, and many were the anxious consultations held under its roof. As the evening went on, it was Pate and his mother whose voices were the most heard. Jean fell, like Margaret, into the position of an eager listener, submitting for the first time to the supremacy of strength and age, leaving the decision to them, flashing only now and then, as Margaret did, an eager light of suggestion upon every new discussion as it rose.

CHAPTER VI.

News were brought to Over-Kellie only in the afternoon of the next day that the new heir, who had made so ungracious an entrance, was gone. It was brought by Neil Morison, in the faded velvet doublet which was his habit of state, attended by the varlet called Jaicque (Anglicè, Jack), who was man enough to groom all the horses left in the Kellie stables—to wit, a sober steed of all work, now ridden by Maister Neil, and the skittish pony of Mistress Jean, who held in these old unused stalls something like the same position which her mistress held in the Castle. It was Jaicque who opened the gate, and "tirled at the pin" of the house door, and held the stirrup while the major-domo got down from his horse, which he did slowly and with difficulty. He had been Sir Walter's faithful attendant, and long confinement to his master's chamber had given to his scarcely more than middle age the aspect of an old man. He gave the Mistress a bow which almost alarmed her, it was so grand, a much finer bow than that with which he signified his sense of the presence of his own young lady, whom it appeared he had come to seek.

"I was weel aware," he said, "and it was the conviction of our Mistress Marjory, who is my Lady Jean's auld caretaker, and kens her ways, that our young damsel, Leddy Over-Kellie, would have taken shelter here."

"It was the natural place for her to come to,—my son Pate," said the Mistress, "being her own blood relation and next of kin."

"Madam," said Neil, "we've mair confidence in yoursel' as a guardian than in any man whatsomever. But we judge it quite safe for the young leddy to come her ways hame."

"I will never cross the door," cried Jean, "as long as yon painted pyet, yon fause lord, is there."

"The popinjay," said Margaret, in the background, proud of the name her lover had given.

"He is nae lord," said Neil; "his father is the Lord Oliphant, and he is but the Master, and may never be a lord at all for ought that we can tell,—nor would it be, I'm thinking, ony great loss to the name, for a wilder or a wantoner I have never seen. Anyway, Mistress Jean, he is gane. And, so far as I hear, none of them will meddle us more till the summer, and for the present you are better at hame than ony other where."

"Till the summer," Jean said, with sparkling eyes. She gave a glance at Pate, who had just entered the room, and stood a little perplexed and doubtful on the threshold in his farmer's dress, as he had hastened from the fields on hearing of this emissary from the Castle. For aught he knew, it might have been some scornful message from the interloper which Neil brought; and he stood, his ruddy face clouded with unusual sternness, expectant and somewhat defiant. "Cousin Pate," cried Jean, over the head of the old servant, "yon popinjay is gone, and they are not coming back till the summer: the summer, and there's three months to that. Oh, if ye were my real captain, and like our forebears of the past! Neil, did you ever hear tell that Kellie Castle had held out against a mortal foe?"

"And where is the mortal foe, my young leddy? Sir Walter, my honoured master, had neither feud nor fray with any man—that is," said Neil, with caution, "not for many a year."

"Eh! may the green turf lie soft upon him," said the Mistress; "he was an auld, auld man."

"No so old as ye think—if it were not for care and sorrow. I have seen a stour about the Castle, and swords drawn, if that is what you mean, my Lady Jean. There are few castles in Scotland, nor even ha'-houses," said Neil, "that could say less."

"Eh, and that is true!" said the Mistress; "but the present times are more quiet, the Lord be thanked!"

"The most of the fiery blood is away," said the old man. "Your own son now, young Over-Kellie, there, where he stands, he has his farms and his fields to think of, and never fashes his thoom about feats of arms."

Pate, still lingering at the door, grew darkly red, and came forward with a gloomy brow. "I have my father's sword, Maister Neil," he said, "ready for any man that doubts my spirit."

"Ay, ay, I ken that," said the major-domo. "The father's sword, maist likely rusted to its scabbard, and as heavy as a plough pettle. But the young gallants have blades that flash out at a moment's notice, as free as breath, though it's the stoppage of breath they're bent upon." The old servitor laughed, a low laugh, like the creaking of a door, at his own wit. But it was at Pate's expense, and the young man felt it to the bottom of his heart.

"Yesterday was no day for a brawl," he said; "but let him cross my gait again, and he will learn if there is rust or not on a man's sword."

"I lovena the lad," said Neil. "He has nae respect either for a young lass nor an auld man. But he's no sweart with his blade, and he'll stand up to you were you Wallace wight."

It is hard upon a young man to be driven to protestations of what he would do if the occasion came, and Neil's tone was bitter to Pate, in the uneasy pride of his position, thus waved aside more or less offensively not only by the others, but by the very servants of the others, conscious of all the external differences between the place he claimed and that to which, notwithstanding his claims of blood, he had been barn. Might ill be the fate of that Oliphant who was first led away by love of a fair face, and married a farmer's daughter, and settled down on a yeoman's land! And yet that Oliphant was the source of all his claims, the honour of his house, and a far better man than if, like any swashbuckler, the laird's younger son of Kellie had died in a foolish fray, and left behind him neither heir nor land.

"Cousin Pate," cried Jean, "mind that it is you I look to. I will not say another word; but the walls, they are old and they are strong, and if the men are not stout, the knaves belie their name: and as for your auld motto, I just cast it in your teeth. Provide, then, an' ye are so fond of it! and let it be for your lady, as is your bounden duty, and you the next kinsman." She took up the edge of her riding-cape, which Margaret with affectionate devotion had been arranging on her shoulders—at the spot where the gold lace with which it was trimmed was frayed and broken—and held it up to him. "Next kinsman, and only friend," she said, putting her hand into his with a gleam of moisture in her eyes that made them twice as bright as usual: and they were bright enough at all times, as bright as stars to Pate's thought. They were not the Oliphant eyes, which in their kind were not to be despised, brown, glowing, and liquid, full of laughter and light: but blue, with such a sparkle in them as the sapphire has, and shooting out rays like arrows—that kind of blue fire which has something in it more keen than the brown, piercing and cutting like a dart. It softened with the last words, and the water swam in the darkness of the blue.

Pate said little for the rest of the day to the inquisitive and anxious women of his house; but he pondered long as he strode about the fields in the afternoon, and later in the night, when the labourers had gone to their houses, to the scattered clump of lowly cottages that sheltered beyond the farm-buildings, and all the members of the family within the house, bound to be early astir in the morning, had gone to rest. There had been talk enough and consultation. But though the Mistress and Margaret had not been able to refrain from carrying on the arguments of last night between themselves, there was a consciousness even in their minds that it was he alone who had to decide. And they had withdrawn to their beds, a little reluctant, yet constrained by necessity and a sense of duty, to leave him to himself. It was a relief to him when they were gone, and yet it troubled him to feel himself left under the flickering light of the cruse in the stillness of the house to face this problem which was his, and not another's. He had been more or less of an easy mind during all his youth, disturbed from time to time by his gentle blood and his possibilities, which from shadows, that they had been at first, had grown into present and real things, as old Sir Walter's family had failed one by one, and it had become more and more apparent that it was he, and only he, who was the heir. The lass who was the last of the house of Kellie had not seemed of much importance to Pate's eyes,—not more than she had been to old Sir Walter, who was her brother, though he might almost have been her grandfather, and to whom she was an accident, troublesome, and sometimes exasperating to think of, and therefore pushed aside and not considered at all. Neither did Pate think of her. He had been troubled at times by the consciousness that he had not been bred so well as he was born—that he had about him that something of the fields and the plough which made him different from the young gallants, the flash of whose ready rapiers from the scabbard was, as Neil had said, with wise and wounding justice, unlike the deliberate drawing of the sword which perhaps had rusted a little in its sheath. And the thought of this, and such incidents as had occurred yesterday, when the train of gentlemen who, though they resented his intrusion, and supported Pate in his rights, still crowded about the Master of Oliphant, and left his kinsman to such consolation as the humbler yeomen could bestow,—had irritated and vexed him. It seemed to Pate a humiliation, not only that they should withdraw, but that he himself should care.

But all these thoughts had gone like last year's snow, in a new dilemma very differently felt. That he should not after all be the next in succession, the just heir; that there should be some one between him and Kellie,—to have discovered this, had he ever anticipated or dreamt of such a possibility, would have been in all his previous thoughts a sort of deathblow. But somehow that dread discovery did not hurt him at all. No; nor that he should be recognised as the first vassal, the loyal servant of this intruder, who shut him out of his lawful inheritance. He had tried for a moment to be angry, even to be wounded, but he had not succeeded. It had given him a shock; but the shock had been such as the discovery of a new inheritance, a something better even than Kellie, might have given. Who was it, this true heir, for whom he was called upon to give up the claim which had been dear as his life? who commanded him imperiously as the first vassal, the nearest kinsman, servant, and officer. It would have been incredible to him that he should have accepted such a position; that he should have met the call, not with defiance, rage, denial, but with a consent and acquiescence which astonished himself; which filled him with generous emotion, with a kind of pleasure, with a soft humorous sense of something beyond reason in it, foolish, noble, more exquisite than any emotion he had ever felt before. To secure the home of his fathers, the hope of his life, the right most dear to him—for Jean! not for himself. It brought the moisture into his eyes, a dew of pain, yet warm with every sweetness. He turned round on the heavy wooden stool, beside the big table, on which he sat, and fixed his eyes on the words scrabbled in stone upon the chimney, and still more misshapen and irregular in that medium through which he looked at them. "À tovt povrvoir." What meaning had been in these words! He had seen himself the master of his father's house, the head of his name, the providence of his race. Not an Oliphant in St Monance, not a fisher on the coast, that would not be the better for him, that would not rejoice to think that the auld blood had been revived in the new master, and every ancient tradition of kindness from lord to vassal made true. It was no ignoble hope that had been in the young man's heart. No one had ever called old Sir Walter an ill laird; but he had grown old, indifferent, rapt in the shadows of his old age, no longer capable of thought or care for those around him. Whereas Pate was young, full of sympathy, full of vigour, knowing every man and caring for every house. To cry "an Oliphant!" in a street brawl, or take the crown of the causeway from any passer-by, had not been in his thoughts; but to be the defence of his own folk, the champion of Fife, one of the supporters of the common weal!

Pate rose up with a start, pricked by his thoughts, and went to the fireplace—leaning his head upon the rude carving, and gazing down at the smouldering red on the hearth. Would she be that? A bit of a lass, not much more than a child, without knowledge; also a creature of caprice, moved not, like himself, by long-held, long-pondered resolution, but by every wind that blew, by sudden impulses, perhaps unwise, by the council of the moment, born to-day and gone to-morrow. He pressed his brow upon the stone till the carving was printed upon it, as it had been before on his heart. Who could tell what mood would sway her, what strength she would have, what instruction would commend itself to her—what (and perhaps this was the great question of all)—what husband she would marry? But that question, which suddenly roused the blood in every vein, so that Pate felt a sudden flush go over him from head to foot,—that question had to be crushed at once, having nothing to do with the matter. That was not his affair. No such solutions from fairyland were to be brought into the consideration of a man's duty. The women might dwell upon them. They might so, if they would, set injustice right, and contradict the laws of nature at their pleasure; but such considerations were not for him. The question was not one of fancy or of chance, but of what he, a strong man and a steadfast, taking gravely into consideration every side of the subject, was to do: and this was what he had to settle now.

CHAPTER VII.

"My friend Pate," said Sir John Low, "I cannot think that you have so little sense—a young man of havins, as I have ever kent you—as to oppose my Lord Oliphant in his lawfu' rights. The estate has been gifted to him fully and fairly by him that had the power. And you have but the drap's blood. We are not denying your blood-right. You are the next of kin; but if Sir Walter thought it the best thing to put back the auld lands under the hand of the undoubted head of the house——"

"It is just that that will have to be tried," said Pate.

"Man," cried Sir John, "what are you but a distant kinsman after all? And my lord also is a kinsman—maybe farder off in degree, but assured in line as the fountainhead to the stream."

"Mess John," said Pate, "we will leave counting the degrees. There is one that needs no counting, being the child of the same father, and more near in kin than I am, as I frankly allow." Here Pate lifted his bonnet from his head with a certain solemnity. "That she is a maid and not a man is naught; for the maid has succeeded to the father as long as there has been law in Scotland. And I have even heard say——"

"Mistress Jean!" cried the curate, elevating his eyebrows; and he smote Pate on the back a jovial blow, all unlike his lean form and the gleam in his eyes. "Ha, my bonnie lad! you are none so simple for a country clown. You would strengthen one ill claim with another, and win the knight's spurs by the help of the distaff! Whiles it is not a bad plan."

That Pate's cheek should have flamed at this filled him with a sense of humiliation; but it was anger and not shame that brought the red, which flushed fiercely over his brow and lent a red light to his hazel eyes.

"The lady's claim is firm as Carnbee Law," he said. "I yield to it, with no liking, nor even surety of well-doing. She may carry the auld castle that is the home of my fathers into a stranger name—the whilk would be the grief of my life. I yield to her, because I cannot in justice withstand. She claims me as her defender, which doubtless I am, being the first man—in Fife—of my name."

Sir John, who had been staring at him open-mouthed, here burst into a laugh. "And you tell me that's your reason!" he cried, in a derisive tone.

"You, or any man," said Pate, calmly. "And I would do the same," he added with a smile, turning upon the half-priest, who followed stealthily, as far as he dared, the habits of the old faith, sure of indulgence in the unsettled state of affairs—"I would do the same if I were one of your lambs, that tell you all in your ear ahint the kirk-door."

"It would be well for you, my lad, if you did the same," said the curate, reddening in his turn; "and ye should hear from me that when you lippen to a young lass you are a fool for your pains."

"What!" said Pate, "is that the counsel you give, Sir John? To leave the orphan lass undefended, and bow the head to the silken lord? That is not the lear that has been learned to me."

"Silence, yeoman!" cried the angry curate. "Are you one to teach your betters, let alone your priest?"

"Ay," said Pate, "or any honest man; and I acknowledge no priest but only him that teaches the Word—which never yet bade to pass over the weak, even when it is to your own hurt, as this is to mine."

"Here's one coming that will give you grand reason for every fule-deed you like to do," cried Sir John—"ay, and tie you up safe and fast to the lass that ye think has such a grand tocher. But bide awhile, bide awhile, Pate the pious. Succouring orphans is a fine thing when your own rights are not so clear as ye thought; but when you find a useless wife on your hands, and all the cows to milk, and the byres to clean——"

"You have an ill tongue, if you were ten times a priest!" cried Pate, with a clouded brow.

But the controversy was stopped by Master Melville, who came up hastily, quickening his usually sober steps at the sound of Pate's voice raised above its usual tone, and the laughing, scornful attitude of Sir John.

"Your look is not peaceful, Peter," he said, "nor your eye content."

"Did you expect to find me content, Maister Melville," said Pate, "with my rights taken up by others, and myself scorned before my neighbours? I would then be a man not like other men."

"The Lord of Over-Kellie," said Sir John, "was, by my faith, near upon charging me with a cartel of war to that other nobleman the Lord Oliphant; but that I am a man of peace and carry no gage."

"You might moderate your jesting, Brother Low," said Melville, "and so show yourself a man of peace. This is not the time, Peter, to bandy words, with whosoever it may be. You have your duty to do for your kindred and your name."

"It is what I am ready to do at all times," cried Pate, hastily, eager to find in the minister's face the counsel already established in his own.

"We will say good morrow, first," said Melville, "to this reverend brother. It is an evil thing to be overly much concerned with the affairs of this world, Maister Low. Here are you and me, both led away by these heathenish disputes, that should have been in our quiet studies pondering our sermons, and the Lord's Day coming on——"

"I am no man for long sermons," said Sir John, "nor am I liked the less on that account, so far as I can see."

"Well, sermons are my trade," said Melville, passing his brother-clergyman with a bow. He put his arm in Pate's, and led the young man with him, gently forcing his steps. "All he means," said the minister, holding Pate's arm tight and leading him on, "is to make you talk and give forth your foam and nonsense, the whilk he will turn into solid mischief. I hope I am no uncharitable," he added, devoutly; "but come you, Patie, my man, and talk out your soul: you are safer with me than with him."

"No, minister," said Pate, "I have no need for blethering, as you seem to think: my mind is steady and made up. The young lady is more wronged than I am. She is her father's just heir. She claims me as her first servant, and I allow the claim. I am the man nearest to her. I am fechting, and I will fecht, to the death, for her right and not mine."

"Pate! lad!" said the minister; his voice faltered, and even his step for the moment. Then he cried, "No wonder he did not understand!"

But Pate neither comprehended nor desired to comprehend the meaning of this reply. He was entirely preoccupied with his own thoughts. "That is my solemn determination," he said. "I have had my fancies; but then I kent nothing of her, nor of her just rights. I will get them for her if I can, minister: it is my first duty, as the next of the name."

"She is but a lassie," said the minister, "and a wild one; no training, no mother, grown up just like a blade o' grass on the lee. There is no telling what the like of her may do. She will take your very heart out of your life, and never ken what a gift it is. She may not even thank you. She may think it's only her right and your duty."

"And what is it else?" said Pate. "You are all the professor I ever had: if my lear is poor it is your blame. I think I have heard from your very mouth that if a man does not stand for his ain, specially for them of his own house——"

"Oh, laddie, do not tackle me out of my own mouth!" cried the minister, peevishly; "many a foolish thing I've said. Meantime, you must mind that when the Apostle said yon, he was thinking nought of a man's house, according to your meaning of the word. Little recked that holy man of the Oliphants or any Scots name, with their pride and their clanships. What he meant was the man's wife and his bairns—and no a distant cousin twenty times removed."

"No more than three times, minister," said Pate; "make me not out more loon than laird. And as she's her father's daughter, and he so old a man, she is of the elder generation, my father's second cousin, and no more than second cousin once removed to me. And what could be nearer my own house than that? Nay, the holy man, as you say—I wot not how to call him—would e'en have been of my mind."

"Paul he was, and not always favourable to Peter," said Melville, shaking his head, yet with a tremulous smile on his face. "Pate, I will ask you but one thing. Is it for the hope of this maiden's love that you take up her forlorn cause?"

"Maister Melville," said Pate, "I ken not if I love her; but reason none have I to think that she has ever wared a thought on me. There is clear in my mind the danger, and mostly the certainty, that she will mate with some stranger and carry the auld house into another name,—the whilk would be bitter to me—more bitter than words can say."

"If it is so," said the minister, "then the Lord bless you, my lad, Pate. Laird or no laird, you are a true man, and that's better than rank or high degree."

"You mind, minister," said Pate, with a smile, "Aw toutt pourvoïre—you were the first to learn me what its meaning was."

"I was ever a fool," said Melville, "and ever will be! It is not that kind of lesson that makes a man win lairdship and land."

"But it is maybe the best consolation when he has to bide without them," Peter said.

They had come in their walk within sight of Kellie Castle, which stood square and strong, rising with its turrets to the sky from amid the peaceful fields, as it still stands undismayed by all the progress of the centuries. It is a little grim and grey in the darkness of its stone walls nowadays, all Scotland having been seized since then with that false reserve which discredits colour; but in these days, no doubt, much of the rough mass, especially in its out-buildings, must have shone in white or yellow, the old tints, weather-stained and glorious, which the country then loved. Pate looked towards that home of his fathers, lifting once more the bonnet from his brow. It had been a kind of idol to him throughout his youth, his every hope had centred in it; it had been his ambition, the desire of his heart—not an ignoble one. He looked upon it now with a smile full of sorrow and disappointment, and a thought, had he known it, higher than any other hope that had ever before centred upon Kellie. If it were won for her, then would it be well lost.

"Fare thee weel, auld Kellie," he said with a half laugh to hide that tremor; "thou wilt never be to me or mine; and I have glowered at thee, and longed for thee all my life long: which maybe you will say, minister, is just a judgment on me for a covetous thought."

"You will never hear such a word from me, Pate, my man," said the minister. "I have more opinion, if I dare to say it, of your good Lord and mine."

He, too, lifted his hat in reverence as he spoke, and after a moment both turned away.

"After all," said Master Melville, "this is not the subject on which I sought you in haste, my lad, Pate. I hear that yonder wild lassie, hot with her race and her youth, is for defending the auld Castle by force of arms. She will call out every Oliphant in the Kingdom of Fife, you the captain: she will fill the stores with provender, and furbish up the auld armour, and hold the place against lord and loon. It's over the whole countryside already, and the lads at St Monance all alow. There needs but a spark to fall, and there will be a blaze to light up Fife. Pate, do you think what that would be? Two whole parishes put to the horn. The men, that are the breadwinners, in prison or hounded out of the land. The women helpless with their bairns; the boats all useless on the shore, the plough in the furrow. Ever have I learned you, Pate Oliphant, that a man's first thought should be for them about him that are in want of good guiding and help to do well. You cannot stand against the law. You cannot stand against the chief of your name, that has riches and troopers at his command (though well I wot he is a wastrel, and his son after him). Mistress Jean, she is but a bairn. The right and the wrong have gone to her head, and of the consequences she takes no thought. Vain to, speak till her of ruined houses and men slain or banished. She just thinks of victory and the three silver crescents waving over Kellie, and the tyrant driven away. As if she was a queen fighting for her crown—and, waes me! we have well known in this generation what comes of that."

Pate had walked on by the minister's side, silent, his head bowed, listening. He looked up hastily, interrupting—

"A princess; but with more right than the law, and more innocence than that gowan-flower. There is no similitude."

"Nor am I making any comparisons, Pate Oliphant," said the minister with a smile; "but what is all that," he cried, as a sound as of shouting and tumult came to them over the cliffs on the breeze which is always fresh (or salt as the case may be) blowing off the Firth over the Fife braes.

They had walked far in their talk, and were now near the old village of St Monance, with its old kirk dating from the days of King David, that "sore sanct for the crown." The sound evidently came from that quarter, and both the men quickened their steps accordingly. The village consisted then, as now, of a straggling line of red and moss-grown cottages, parallel—if any parallel could be to a coast cut up in zigzags by the line of rocks—with the margin of the sea. It was entirely a fisher village, the boats drawn up high in the rocky openings of the beach, almost on a level with the houses, and nets spread everywhere, drying, or mending, or being baited at every point. But in the centre of the "toun," where the space between the houses and the sea was a little wider, was a little crowd of fishermen, their dark figures lighted up by a touch of brighter colour in a kirtle or petticoat, and the white specks of the mutches which every decent woman wore. They were all circling round a gayer figure in their midst, Mistress Jean to wit, uplifted on her pony, with her hair flowing under her riding-cap, the highest light in the picture, as her delicate face was, among all the ruddy, weather-beaten, glowing countenances round. Jean had, it was evident, been making something like an oration to her assembled vassals, and her eyes shining, her hair waving, her arm in the air, had kindled the fishers to enthusiasm. "We are Oliphants all," she was saying as the minister and Pate came up, "every one kin, far off or near, and hey for the silver crescents and bonnie Kellie Castle, that never owned master since the days of Bruce but——" she stopped with the pause of natural eloquence as her kinsman pushed into the crowd: then waving her whip, cried with all the force of her young voice, and a daring which brought the blood to her cheek, "Pate Oliphant's line, and mine."

Never was a touch more effective. As he pushed forward, scarcely hearing what she said, there rose a general shout, "Pate Oliphant and the bonny Leddy; Leddy Jean and the kind house o' Kellie! We're for them and nae land-loupers. The Bruce's blood and the auld name!"

"Mistress Jean," said Pate, "what do you here? This is no court of law, to judge between you and him that, right or wrong, is no land-louper, but the head of our name."

"Land-louper yourself, Pate Oliphant!" cried Jean, in high indignation. "Let go my bridle! If you will not tell the lads, what is left to me but to do it? and you, if you will not speak, be silent, sir! for though I do you all honour, and name you with myself, you are but my vassal like the rest. And that you ken!"

Pate's bonnet was in his hand, and he bowed low; but he held her bridle without flinching, though pony and rider both rebelled. "It is not safe for a spirity creature like this," he said, "the roaring of those loons so near her lug. Silence, lads! The lady understands, without more of your rowting, that you're all leal, and her friends."

The men had slunk a step backward in dismay at what seemed to them a family quarrel. They brightened again, and answered, "Ay, that are we!" "To our last drap o' blood!" "And yours too, Maister Pate!"—with a subdued clamour, daunted by his look, for he was not a man to trifle with, as they knew.

"My bonny bairn," Mr Melville was saying at the other side, "if you will curb your pony to an auld man's pace, I would fain go with you. There's danger baith for man and beast here."

"And what do I care for danger?" cried Jean; "it's just half the pleasure. Bid Pate Oliphant let go my bridle. Do you think, me that am 'most in arms for my rights, I will be guided by him?" She touched the excited pony with her whip, which made a bound, scattering the fisher-folk. But not Pate, who, setting his teeth, and digging his heels into the earth, held her with a grasp of iron. Jean had the whip raised again, with the intention, it seemed, this time, of striking him, when the minister called out to her—

"Slip down, lassie! the little beast is wild wud; she'll dash you against the rocks; she'll have your brains out: slip down, slip down, and you'll take little harm."

"Leddy, ye canna haud her a minute longer," cried a fisher—one rushing on each side to pluck her from her saddle. But the girl blazed over them, her hair waving in their faces, her blue eyes darting fire.

"Away!" she cried. "Away! Hold off! She may master you and me, but she'll not master Pate!"

CHAPTER VIII.

There ensued after this a very dark time in the life of Peter Oliphant of Over-Kellie. When Jean found that not she, any more than the pony, could master Pate, she withdrew altogether her favour and friendship from him. Shut up within the old house, which Lord Oliphant after that one demonstration of taking possession left unvisited, she passed the lingering spring and summer, often seen about the country roads on her pony, but keeping up a seclusion within, quite uncongenial to her temper, and which even Margaret from Over-Kellie was not allowed to break. The suit at law, brought before the courts by her kinsman and next friend on her behalf as a minor,—that Sir Walter's will might be set aside as barred by her right of succession, and also as procured by undue influence, when in his age and weakness he was no longer able fully to exercise his faculties,—excited for a moment her hottest wrath. She burst forth upon Maister Melville, who gave her the information, with blazing artillery of looks and words, of which he avowed that could the first have slain him he would now have been a lost man. But the mild divine, being full of experience and observation, believed he saw behind all this fury a certain exultation. "How daured he, after denying me, and contradicting me, and leaving me here to eat my heart, while he went off to his plough, the dastard, no to answer his lady's call! And I doubt not he's laying his furrows and sowing his grain as if there was no such person as Jean Oliphant shut up in Kellie," the girl cried, glowing with rage and curiosity and eagerness. "You can tell him that it's he that is the land-louper, and no credit to his gentle blood, to turn his back on the auld house and upon me."

"No back of his has been turned on any lawful risk," said the minister; "on certain destruction no brave man will run if he is other than a fool. Ken you what your kinsman is doing, Mistress Jean? He is risking his whole living, with the chance of loss that will banish him the country—and that not for himself, as once he thought, but for you."

"Banish him the country!" said Jean, with blanched lips.

"Ay, my little maiden, you ken not either the risk or the pain. You think it is but to out with the flag, and load the arquebus, and the right will prevail; whereas it would be death to many a bonny lad, and destruction to many an honest house, and no hope to do more."

"All that," she cried, with an impatient wave of her hand, "is over and gone, since he refused and would not stand by me, nor be my captain as I bade him; but to gang to the law is one thing and be banished the country is another. And who would banish him the country for standing by his—next friend? if that is what you call it," she added, in a subdued voice.

The minister smiled within himself to see how swiftly she had accepted the position, notwithstanding her first revolt; but he proceeded to explain to her that the law cost much siller, and Peter had little but his land and his old house; and if the plea lingered long—as it might well do—till all his money was spent, there would be nothing for him when he had secured a living for his mother but to quit Scotland, either for the foreign wars, like so many of the Scots, or to sail away to one of the New-found-lands over the seas, where folk said there were estates for the asking, a fine caller climate, none of your tropiques, a new Scotland cold but fair. And then Jean wept, and declared that she would not have it, that no man should risk life or land for her cause: and afterwards dried her eyes and waved her golden locks, and declared that it was even like him, just like what was to be looked for from Pate, and showed that he was the maist fulish lad in all the land, as she had always said. But even after this she would not come forth nor make friends, though Margaret, when next she came to the Castle gate, was brought up to the hall, and many kisses passed between the girls, and still more kind words.

The cause was heard, by good fortune, with less delay than was feared, and it was thought at first with much prospect of success. Pate himself, being anxious, made more than one visit to Edinburgh, which indeed was a journey in those days.

But, alas! there was no longer any occasion for hope, when one day in July when the sun was at its hottest, and the genial earth warm through and through, and the corn turning red against the blue of the sea, as I saw it but the other year, glowing as if it would take light and flame—Pate Oliphant, just come back, and weary with the journey, stood hard by his own hall-door, leaning upon the wall, his bonnet low on his brow, and his heart full of trouble. He had flung out of the big room from his mother's questions and his sister's outcries of sympathy and distress, feeling that he could not bear even the sympathy, much less the questions: how was this, and how was that? when all he could tell or think of was just that the cause was lost. Oh, easy enough to see how it was, if they would but think, instead of asking questions! My Lord Oliphant had friends enow; he was a Lord of King James's Court; he was sib to all the nobles, and even to one of those carles on the judges' bench, with their muckle wigs and their weariful tongues. A losing litigant is prone to be doubtful of the impartiality of the law. Pate Oliphant could not but feel that, had he been Oliphant of Kellie (as he ought to have been), any suit of his would have been more safe to end as he wished.

He was standing there, idly lashing the air with the riding-switch that was still in his hand, his bonnet low on his brow, and his heart in his bosom, when there came suddenly into the silence of the afternoon a sound of horse's hoofs at the gallop on the rough road that led to the house. Margaret, who had come out after her brother, cried out with a start, "Hear till her! It is Jean's powney, the little wild beast—wild like her mistress. It's our Leddy Jean."

"Leddy, puir lassie!" cried the Mistress; "no more Leddy, if a' be true, Margaret, than you or me."

"And even so worthy of the more respect," cried Pate, rousing from his despair. There was no mistaking the breakneck gallop, which seemed to join the two, pony and girl, in one personality. Jean's one idea now, clearly told by every flying beat of the hoofs upon the road, was a fiery desire to get there, to fling herself upon the protection or sympathy of her friends. Pate flung his bonnet on the ground, and hastened to throw open the gate, receiving her with uncovered head and reverential gesture, as if she had been a queen. But Mistress Jean, in hot haste, too impetuous to pause, flashed past him like a gleam of sudden light—her golden locks flying, her complexion bright with haste and excitement. She drew up before the door, and flung herself from the pony's back without waiting for any aid. "They have come, they have come!" she cried, with only breath enough to say the words. She was so keen, however, to tell her story, that the immediate painful meaning of it was lost in eagerness. "Here am I, flung upon you like a stone, fired out upon you like a bullet out of a gun," she cried, with a laugh of excitement. "O Pate Oliphant! if ye would but have done it, you and me would have been in harness this day, and the silver crescents flying out-owre the grey wall! for they are come—they are come!"

"The silver crescents," said Pate, "are their cognisance as well as yours and mine: and they have won the day."

"Listen to me," cried Jean, shaking her half-curled locks about her ears, her eyes blazing, her countenance, in her excitement, undismayed. "I was sitting quiet in the great window, thinking no harm, when in a moment there arose sic a tumult as if a haill army had broken in; and before I could say more than a word to old Marjory, there they were, bursting up ilka stair, some from the west tower, some from the south, with a clatter of rapiers by their side, and spurs on their heels—the villain sound," she cried, "and them no better than reivers upon a poor maiden—but notwithstanding," she added, pausing with a sigh, "a bonnie noise!" She cast a sudden glance at Pate, standing there in the dust of his journey, the sun shining on his bared head. He had no swingeing rapier, but a whinger in his belt and a spur on his heel, for use and not for show, a subdued figure, not like the gallants in their bravery. He felt this glance to the bottom of his heart, divining something of it, but not Jean's instant second thought, that not one of them, fine as they might be, was such a bonnie lad!

"I am telling ye," cried Jean, renewing her tale with a flush upon her cheeks which came from her own consciousness of that thought, "that they all burst in in a moment, men's voices, and the jingling and the clattering of them, that filled the hall. It is well for me that I never stop to think, as the Mistress says; for if I had stoppit, or thought, or lingered a moment, I would have been in their hands, the popinjays! and no time for parley. I just flashed up 'most before I saw them, divining in my heart, and slippit behind the curtain that is over yonder sma' door, Margaret, you will mind? I just lingered to see that it was safe, and heard their outcry, 'Where is she?' and 'Call forth the leddy,' which proved they had not seen me—though one cried there was some person gone forth, and another that he had heard a step—which was a muckle lee, whoever told it," cried Jean, pausing in her childish sense of triumph yet injury; "you ken whether I have a foot like a trooper, to be heard among armed men."

"Thus I got to the stable," she went on, "like an arrow from a bow: and Jaicque, who is faithful, and me, that have saddled her many a day, we got on her gear before you could turn round, and away by the back of the outhouses, and the bridle-path by Kellie Mill, and never a soul to hear us or see us, all the gaping fools about being out to see the gallants' train. And here I am," she cried, suddenly pausing and looking round. Up to this moment her tone had been almost joyous, her bearing almost gay, in the heat of excitement and novelty, which were life to this young creature. She stopped, and her countenance changed. She looked round upon them—the Mistress at the stair-head wringing her hands, the young master of Over-Kellie standing at the pony's head, with a sobered wistful look of discouragement and downfall, nobody, as it seemed, sympathetic but Margaret, who, excited like herself, half crying, half laughing, had clasped the hands which still held the bridle, caressing them in the absence of other means of showing her pity and her love. "Now I am here," repeated Jean, slowly, a sudden cloud of surprise and dismay sweeping over her, "but you are not glad to see me. O Pate Oliphant, Pate Oliphant, take your hand from my bridle! Next of kin you may be, but no next of heart!"

"You silly lassie!" cried the Mistress, taking, though she was a little timid and cautious in her elder days, but two steps down the four stairs.

If I had space I would tell how Jean came to understand the saddened looks of her next of kin, and how Pate discovered that no popinjay of them all was in her eyes half the man that he was, though he had refused to take up arms or spend men's lives in a hopeless cause. They had to subdue their pride to the acceptance of their fate, which was much harder upon Peter Oliphant—born, you would have said, to no better—than on Mistress Jean, though her proud cousins called her no more than the Gudewife of Over-Kellie, scorning her blood and her rights. But the family kept their homely life there unbroken for many generations, keeping up the old name and kindly tradition long after the Lords Oliphant, though this is no brag of a child of Over-Kellie, but a sad saying, were, like the Flowers of the Forest, a' wede away. There was another lawsuit, of which no better came; but Peter Oliphant of Over-Kellie, though no more than a bonnet-laird, no doubt, "with his bairns and his oyes all around him, oh," came to be more or less a contented man. He knew French to a certain degree, as has been said, thanks to Maister Melville, whose breeding and education had been much in foreign countries; and though he pronounced it like good broad Scots, and was no professor for the grammar, here is this little composition of his in that language, beaten out as he went about his fields through many a quiet day, and pondered his life and the life of man in the long silence of the years. À tout pourvoir had been the proud device of his youth, when everything seemed within his power; but this was what he put into that old tongue of gallant device as the burden of his age, with the accent of Scotland and of long life—

"Ayant pourvu
Autant qu'a pu,
quoth Pate."

And may we all say as much, however humbly, his descendant prayeth, at the end of the dim valley from whence begins to glow over the dark braes the rising of a better sun.


[The Lord Oliphant, perhaps harshly treated above, was a man of many troubles and difficulties, much like those of Sir Walter of Kellie, whom he succeeded. He, too, died with no son to follow, and would have passed over his daughter; and a romance of mingled lawsuits and royal interference might well be made out of his history and that of his successors—but this must be for another hand. As dates are the useful things that are most apt to fail in family tradition, I do not attempt to say which of his successors sold Kellie Castle—to them a useless and unnecessary burden, though so dear to those who lost it—to the family of Erskine, who took from it in later days a title, and made it their home.]